Shortly before the moon emerged from silvery clouds, 3-year-old Maeven Blake reached out from her mother’s arms and touched falling, man-made “snowflakes,” including a mass that had come to rest on the black stovepipe hat of a rotund plastic snowman.
Maeven and her mother Tiffany Blake and hundreds of others gathered Sunday night in the first New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Santa Rosa in 15 years.
“It just sounded like something fun that we could do as a family,” the Santa Rosa mom said. After arriving in Old Courthouse Square, she was pleased to encounter both friends and neighbors.
The free downtown celebration was the largest of several gatherings Sunday in Santa Rosa that ushered in the New Year. Among the events was the common goal of bringing people together.
Two Sunday gatherings took place in areas burned by October’s Tubbs fire and were hosted to honor fire survivors.
In Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, where 1,300 homes burned, volunteers prepared ball drops at 9 p.m. and midnight near the Christmas lights decorating a section of Hopper Avenue. Organizer Ronnie Duvall said Sunday’s event was meant to provide hope and help neighbors get to know one another better.
“We’re talking about a neighborhood coming together,” Duvall said.
Also, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore teamed up with local businesses to host up to 400 fire survivors Sunday afternoon and evening at the Burbank Center for the Arts, a facility that itself suffered fire damage. The event, featuring free food and drinks, provided families from Coffey Park and Larkfield the chance to talk and have fun together.
Mike Holdner, whose lost his home in the Mark West Estates neighborhood near Larkfield, said on this night he wanted “to be with the neighbors who went through what you went through.”
Lauren Thompson, who with her husband John lost a home in same neighborhood, said the fire’s aftermath helped show her “neighbors you never knew you had.”
She joked that Holdner, a block captain in the Mark West rebuilding efforts, had become “our new best friend,” and she jumped at the chance to join such neighbors on New Year’s Eve.
“I had to be with my people,” she said.
Also Sunday, the Charles M. Schulz Museum offered its child-centered “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown” party, complete with root beer toasts and two afternoon balloon drops at its northwest Santa Rosa facility.
The downtown event was the first New Year’s Eve celebration held there since 2002, as well as the first such event since Old Courthouse Square was reunified last spring.
It was hosted by a local restaurant company, Chandi Hospitality Group, whose eateries include three downtown restaurants and a Mountain Mike’s Pizza on Cleveland Avenue that burned in the fires.
“I just want everybody to celebrate the great things we have,” said Sonu Chandi, the company’s president and CEO.
He said he hopes more downtown businesses will help sponsor the event in coming years.
Sunday’s bash took place beneath mostly cloudy skies, which kept the temperature brisk but far from freezing. Temperatures dipped below 50 degrees by 9 p.m.
The downtown celebration featured live music on a main stage and a variety of booths to buy food, alcohol and other drinks.